by Adam Sobsey
The Bulls have so seldom been routed this season that their 13-5 loss at Buffalo might seem more alarming than it probably should. There's only one good thing to take away from Thursday afternoon's blowout defeat, other than the fact that it's over: Chris Nowak went 3-4 with a triple, a double and four RBIs. Otherwise, forget it. For rubberneckers, the gory details follow.
Bulls starter James Houser has been playing with fire all season, putting copious runners on base and somehow keeping the great majority of them from scoring. This fate-tempting habit was bound to catch up to him sooner or later, and on Thursday it did: he allowed nine hits and three walks in 4 1/3 innings (76 pitches, 44 strikes), and frankly he's lucky that "only" five runs scored. He was the beneficiary of two unlikely double plays: one was a hot-smash line drive to Durham second baseman Henry Mateo, who caught Mike Lamb too far off the bag (don't let your Lambs stray, shepherds!) and threw him out; the other came courtesy of Wily Mo Pena's lunkheaded baserunning, after he forgot how many outs there were in the third inning and was doubled off of second base by Justin Ruggiano on Rene Rivera's flyout to center field. (Lately, the Bulls' opponents have relieved them of making embarrassing outs on the bases by beating them to it.) And Ray Sadler prevented additional damage in the fourth with a diving catch of Michel Abreu's line drive to right field.
I remain skeptical of Houser's season so far, which if you squint at some of the major stats looks OK. To me, though, his success has resulted mostly from luck, and luck usually evens itself out over the course of the year. We'll see how things develop, of course. There's plenty of time for Houser to make adjustments, and with his soft-tosser's stuff he absolutely has to make them in order to get AAA hitters out.
Houser has also been the beneficiary of excellent fielding, but today the Bulls brought their butter-coated gloves to the ballpark with them. And how! Most astonishing today was Ray Olmedo. Although shortstop is his natural position, Olmedo doesn't usually play there for the Bulls. Earlier this year, up-and-coming prospect Reid Brignac had the position locked down until his promotion to Tampa (by the way: I'm guessing that Brignac is back in Durham before the end of the month; he needs more seasoning in the minors, and Pat Burrell returns to action soon); then Brandon Chaves got his paws on the job when he was called up from Montgomery, partially because Charlie Montoyo is trying to rebuild Olmedo as a utility player. But Olmedo gave Chaves a day off on Thursday, and I'm sure he'd rather have been back out in left field, where Montoyo stuck him on Tuesday.
That's because Rainer Gustavo Olmedo committed four errors on Thursday afternoon, three of them in a three-batter span (!) in the last of the eighth inning. In that same frame, he also encountered some confusion with left fielder Rashad Eldridge on a shallow outfield pop-up, and it fell for a hit. Earlier in the game, Olmedo kicked open the gates on Buffalo's six-run fifth-inning stampede by botching what should have been an inning-ending double play ball---although it should be said that Julio DePaula, who had just come on in relief of Houser, poured gasoline on the fire by walking three Bisons in the inning. (I'm all for protecting threatened species, but at least make them hit their way up the food chain.)
What to make of Olmedo's horrific afternoon? Maybe he has gotten so used to playing other positions that he's lost the muscle memory for his own; or maybe he's allergic to Lake Erie (who can blame him?); or maybe his progressed sun was square Saturn for a day. In any case, OMG, Ray. Make that OMFG.
Olmedo wasn't alone in his klutziness. In the bottom of the seventh, both Henry Mateo and Chris Nowak mishandled potential double-play grounders and helped a run score. An auxiliary result of the Bulls' five errors---in addition to, you know, making sure the Bulls lost the game by more runs than the total margin of difference of their previous five games combined---was that the Bulls pitchers had to throw even more pitches than their own struggles already required of them. And so, in the ninth inning, having ridden Calvin Medlock for 47 pitches, Charlie Montoyo called on a position player to pitch rather than burn through another bullpen arm in a lost cause. He did it with Matt Hall a couple of weeks ago, and this time it was Alex Jamieson---so this is a good time to tell you that Jamieson was added back onto Durham's roster on Wednesday (which means that he was allowed to take off the sweatshirt that was covering his uniform jersey, since of course Jamieson has been with the team all season).
Stoked as Jamieson must be to have been called back "up" to Durham, the catcher probably wasn't expecting to find himself standing on the mound, peering down at the guy squatting where Jamieson usually plays (adding to Jamieson's season-long Kafka experience). Only: guess which Bulls pitcher was the only one not to allow a run on Thursday? OK, I sort of gave you that one. Two thirds of an inning, ERA a cool 0.00. Hi, I'm Alex Jamieson. I'm not a pitcher, but I play one in Triple A blowouts.
Oh, did I mention that Chris Nowak went 3-4 with a triple, a double and four RBIs? I did? Did I say that he came up in the eighth inning needing only a homer to hit for the cycle, which according to broadcaster Neil Solondz has never been done by a AAA Durham Bull? Guess what Nowak did?
He grounded into a double play.
Also, the Bulls were 2-11 with runners in scoring position, which actually raised their RISP batting average over the last 10 games (it's now .183). They've got a severe allergy to men in scoring position these days. There is an extremely raunchy joke in there somewhere, but I'm going to leave it alone in case there are children reading.
The Bulls had such a bad day that they managed to make everyone forget that Bisons' starter Lance Broadway (who I think is really supposed to be a reliever) walked six Bulls in only 4 1/3 innings. Except not me, Lance, I totally remember. Dear reader, you can go ahead and say what I know you're thinking: the Bulls walked down Broadway!
(Also, aren't you hoping, like me, that Buffalo reliever Eddie Kunz will get called up to the majors, where he'll be in the New York Mets' bullpen with J. J. Putz? Of course you are. What was that I was saying about children reading?)
Did I mention that Chris Nowak we---?
Hey, tomorrow's a new day, I'm told.